Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamond LP – “Mess It Up”

by | Oct 29, 2023 | 0 comments

The Rolling Stones_-Hackney Diamonds

Would you let your daughter date a Rolling Stone?

Who would have thought that a band of rowdies that was causing trouble and writing rebellious rock and roll music would release a full-length album of new material over six decades later? While the Rolling Stones have eroded over the years, they continue to roll downhill with velocity toward musical immorality. With founding members Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, and the recently departed Charlie Watts faded from view, the core of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards continue to blaze a path around fallen comrades and through the electric fence of the music industry. Ronnie Wood, who joined the band in 1974 is a foundational rock in the band’s historic boulder field and with Keith and Mick represents the still sharpened trident of the Rolling Stones.

The Stones new record Hackney Diamonds is the group’s first album of original music, since A Bigger Bang, released 18 years ago. Spinning on the “rock room” turntable today is the result of the group’s recording hiatus. No, it’s not the best Rolling Stones record since … (insert LP here), it is simply legendary musicians doing their work and doing it well. Complacency from fame and familiarity may have dulled the group’s ability to craft a new collection of songs, instead, these factors increased their edgy relevance and encouraged them to create an album comprised of recognizable elements and fresh approaches. The recording runs the gamut from the classic to current and sounds energetic and ambitious. The band brought in producer Andrew Watt to cultivate their vision for the record that had been marinating in various studios and in the minds of Richards’ and Jagger for fifteen years. Keith recently said to Mojo, “[Watt] brought exactly what Mick and I needed to make the record. A lot of freshness, a lot of know how about how records are made these days. Because, I mean, there’s not little spools going around and around – I wish there were.” Watt lets the Stones do what they do best, while lending an attentive ear and updated approach. His influence is felt in many of the vocal harmonies, and he is credited on some of the songwriting, featuring on the opening three tracks.

Hard core fans will note some light brush strokes of auto-tune on Jagger’s vocals, or current pop production choices by Watt. But, distilled to its essence, the album reveals the still sharp crosscut saw riffing by Wood and Richards hacking through the aesthetic gloss. The songs are immediate and feel anxious to get their stories told.

The first single and opening track is “Angry,” a disgruntled maelstrom of sexy, steamy and angular riffs that recalls a packed summer stadium bobbing to the hard rhythm. A fitting kick off to the record similar to past glories like “Start Me Up,” or even “Rocks Off,” the song aggressively flexes its muscles in the opening slot. Jagger’s vocals soothe the aggression with singing that explores reconciliation through melodic exploration.

The “rock room’s” favorite track follows with the second song on side one, “Get Close,” a track that starts with the pulse of Steve Jordan’s drums before being sliced into pieces by a five stringed wire brush scrubbing of the central guitar lick. The song’s chorus is a sweet, yet clandestinely threatening request to get close to the song’s subject. The mid song break recalls a Stones classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” replete with thumping percussion and a gritty sax solo.

“Depending On You,” slows things down with a bit of Jagger/Richards/Watt balladry. “Bite My Head Off,” is an expletive dressed and toothy jam highlighted by Paul McCartney on an aggressive fuzz bass. The cut is exactly what you’d expect from such a collaboration, with Jagger calling out to Macca during his mid-song bass breakout. With sharpened teeth and an animalistic gait the Stones charge through a tune with their still scary and original punk attitude.

“Whole Wide World,” is laminated in a sleek production, and feels like a Jagger solo cut. That’s not a bad thing, it has a different feel to it and a nagging melody. Regardless, it’s a fun number that the band has already played on stage at their New York City premier party and feels like it will be a number that sticks around.

“Dreamy Skies,” finds Jagger in a pastoral field smack dab in the middle of Stones country. The tune is a cloudy drumless drift decorated with a Ronnie Wood slide line that recalls his early Faces days. Keith and Mick harmonize like the Burrito Brothers on one of the best lyric and music matched on the record. The second side of the LP loses a bit of its sheen and rolls around in the grit.

“Mess It Up,” features the late great Charlie Watts laying down a hi-hat driven dance groove. Jagger plays Bowie and gets it on with a strobe light groove that illustrates the influence of Andrew Watt and his ability to modernize the Stones sound without losing their authenticity. An important song in the context of the record and one that illustrates the Stones continued relevance. 

 “Live By the Sword,” features both Charlie Watts and skins, and Sir Elton John on some jangling piano. The hip thrusting groove of the verses is built on quick string stabs by the Wood Richards duo. The result is just this side of honky tonk, and the chorus retains the recognizable Rolling Stones sneer. Mick plows through rhyming couplets, but it’s the attitude of his vocal that really levels the song up. A crisp Wood solo and well placed handclaps recall the days when it was only rock and roll. 

“Driving Me to Hard,” is a mid-tempo weaving of guitars that has that easy Stones swing. Even without Watts, the rhythm section gets the feel just right. As is the case of the entire LP, the lyrics are relevant relationship commentary, not a slow rumination on age and mortality

The last three cuts of the album increase the intensity through a moving triad of music. “Tell Me Straight,” is the token Richards lead vocal, a lo-key bluesy rumination highlighted by Jagger’s harmonizing. A beautifully melodic solo from Woody puts the straight forward melody on a curve.

The penultimate song on the record, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,”features Stevie Wonder on keyboards and Lady Gaga on vocals with Mick. The songs faithful sway spotlights an angel band that reminds the “rock room” of the Stones cover of “Love In Vain,” and the Faces reading of “I Should Have Been Blind.”

The spacious arrangement slowly rises to the source of the sounds in a wash of diffused glory.  Wonder’s piano lends just the right amount of old time religion to the mixture. Lady Gaga joins for the second verse organically echoing Jaggers lines. Mick and Gaga are a heavenly pair cajoling each other into a higher plain. Jagger sings with a grit the contrasts his age and Gaga with a slippery soul. 

The song has a false ending where only the rhythm section and Wonder are caught on a spacious vamp. An audio verité result where Lady Gaga  freestyles her way back to the Jagger and a magnificent conclusion. “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” is an epic set up for the albums final number. 

The album closes with a sparse cover of Muddy Waters classic, “Rolling Stone.” The song that gave the group its name and the blues that gave the band its influence. Mick and Keith, two tumbling dice in a lo-fi duet of acoustic guitar and harmonica. A statement about where they came from and who they are. A proper closing chapter to the diverse collection of material the preceded it. It existence perhaps the most important statement of the record. If Hackney Diamonds is the last Rolling Stones record it is a fitting finale and welcome addition to the Stones discography and legacy. While it will be compared to past glories, it’s strengths tell its own story. The hope is that the songs are afforded the opportunity to reveal their individual strengths on a live stage. We can only hope that in this case that time is always on the Stones side.

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